Copyright © 1996 Jean H. Baker.All rights reserved.
On a bitter, windy morning in late December of 1947--the kind of day forwhich Chicago is notorious--Adlai Ewing Stevenson 11 had fifteen minutesleft to decide. The clock was running out on this grandson and son ofIllinois politicians who, after fifteen years of intermittent public service inappointive federal jobs, wasn't certain he wanted the nomination. "If youdon't run when they want you, they won't take you when you are ready,"cautioned his Republican friend Hermon Smith, while the Democrat whothought he wanted to be a U.S. senator made up his mind about the Illinoisgovernorship. A few blocks away, Jack Arvey was waiting.
Colonel Arvey, as he was known from his rank in the Illinois NationalGuard, needed recruits for his partisan battles, new men to be slated forhigh state offices by the Democratic State Central Committee and the CookCounty Democratic Committee, which he controlled. Returned from fouryears in the U.S. Army, the bald, fifty-three-year-old son of Jewish immigrantsfrom Poland was uncertain of his recently attained political power.As he probed the changing contours of American politics, Arvey neededwinners. Independent candidates occasionally challenged the organization'schoice in the spring primary, but rarely did the disciplined ranks of theIllinois Democrats break to nominate an insurgent. If Stevenson accepted,he would lead the Democratic ticket in next year's election. And if he won,Arvey's clout was assured.
Among its legacies World War II had shattered the certainties of domesticpolitics. The great Democratic general Franklin Roosevelt was dead; noone knew whether the voting coalition that had sent him to the presidencyfor four terms could survive under Harry Truman's leadership. Wars oftenconverted loyal followers into restless idealistic independents searching forleaders capable of avoiding the catastrophes of their predecessors. The Chicagomachine was already challenged by reformers who disliked theexchange features of an organization that traded jobs and economic supportfor votes. Civil servants overseeing federal programs increasingly controlledjobs that in the past had tied voters to the boss's choice. Moreover, thefading reputation of President Truman, whose administration sagged underthe weight of the "mess" in Washington, eroded Arvey's authority.
A Chicago precinct captain and alderman of twenty years' duration,Arvey detected the emergence of a bloc of voters who differed from thefaithful of his inner-city wards. These middle-class Democrats opposedpatronage, believed in participating in politics not for gain but for goodgovernment, measured their votes according to the man and the issues, andproclaimed their pursuit of the public interest. In the Fifth Ward, near theUniversity of Chicago, the newly organized Independent Voters of Illinois(whose name alone upset a party man like Arvey) seemed more concernedwith the importance of transforming practical politics into a noble moralizinginfluence than with the concrete considerations of Arvey's world.
Before the war Americans had accepted politics as a profession, dispensingto its practitioners money, power, and the pleasure of playing thenation's greatest sport. But this new group of amateurs scorned such personalrewards. Unlike the elites who had served in top-level appointivepositions during the New Deal and, when duty called, as dollar-a-year menin Washington's wartime agencies, they expected to contribute to the humbleroutines of local elections, from licking stamps to answering phones. Asthe partisan winds shifted toward the Republicans, Arvey understood thatvictory in the 1948 election might come to blue-ribbon candidates whocould appeal to such citizens. The colonel intended to slate men "withoutany scars," men of reputation, unsullied by previous office holding, whocould make the abstractions of peace, prosperity, and democracy crediblenot because of what they promised but because of who they were.
In the past, partisan Horatio Algers had scrambled up the ladders ofoffice holding. Now neither they nor the ethnic representatives of precinctpolitics, the men whom the newspapers dismissed as party hacks, suited.Jack Arvey had already replaced Chicago's wartime mayor Edward Kellywith Martin Kennelly, a silver-haired insurance man lacking political experiencebut full of high-sounding platitudes. And with nearly a third of CookCounty's votes now housed in suburban communities ringing the city, thestanding decision for the Democrats that had made the city a customaryparty fiefdom was weakening. Richard Daley had lost the sheriff's office,and in the midterm elections of 1946 the Republicans had won a disproportionatetwenty of Illinois's twenty-six congressional seats, a political shiftreflected at the national level, where, for the first time since 1932, the Democratshad lost control of Congress. In 1947 Arvey placed his hopes on apossible ticket led by the returning war veteran and former alderman PaulDouglas for U.S. senator and the novice Adlai Stevenson for governor.
Still Stevenson hesitated. Before the war he had sought out appointivepositions in the federal government. Understanding his veiled ambitions,his friends had urged his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 1942, althoughhe had never run for any public office. When the Democrats chose insteada party man with more political experience, Stevenson was undismayed: "Inever fancied myself as a combatant politico. . . ." Now he did, but for theSenate. As he paced back and forth across his law office muttering, "I ambothered, I am bothered," he wanted assurances that the mayor would supporthim with the get-out-the-vote passion that commanded the six-figuremajorities necessary to offset downstate Republicanism. Arvey's offer wasnot a surprise, but Stevenson wanted more time to decide.
From his family's experience, Stevenson knew that Illinoisians rarelysent Democrats to the governor's mansion in Springfield. Only three hadbeen elected since the Civil War, and his grandfather Adlai Ewing StevensonI, who had run a strong campaign in 1908, had not been among them.He did not intend to be Arvey's sacrifice to the two-term Republican governorDwight Green, or part of the purge of liberal New Dealers intended byconservative Democrats in a Republican year. Nor was he convinced thathe wanted to be in electoral politics at all, remembering, as he said to anaunt, "father's admonition to keep out of politics."
By his reckoning of elections as educational debates over past policiesand future intentions, Stevenson believed that as a senator he could informAmericans on national and international issues. Like many Americans, Stevensonhad never engaged state issues. In Washington, however, he couldcontribute his accumulated experience from appointive positions in theNavy and State Departments as legal counsel and personal assistant to thesecretary of the navy, and after the war as adviser and alternate delegate tothe U.S. delegation to the United Nations, positions that his wife mordantlycharacterized as indistinguishable and unmemorable. "Poor Adlai," Ellensaid more than once, "he seems destined to be someone's assistant forever."
Even as the Republican incumbent Senator C. Wayland Brooks wavedhis bloody shirt from World War I (once disrobing to show a startled audiencewhere a German bullet had entered his back as he recounted the storyof winning a Croix-de-Guerre), Stevenson wondered why the Democratsmust truckle to such demagoguery by also nominating a veteran, in thiscase the former Marine private (later lieutenant colonel) Paul Douglas.Douglas did not even have to undress to show his wounded arm, a recentbattle scar from his service as a fifty-two-year-old combat Marine on Okinawa.But Douglas preferred to be governor, although party gossip heldthat the Marine veteran was too independent to defer to Arvey on patronagematters. Did this mean that Stevenson must cater to Arvey and hismachine? If so, he wanted no part of such an arrangement.
There was uncertain personal business as well. Several months after hereturned from his post as alternate delegate to the United Nations, on February5, 1947, Stevenson had taken stock in the diary he kept mostly ontrips: "Why don't I do what I want to do and like to do and is worthwhiledoing? . . . Am 47 today--still restless; dissatisfied with myself. What's thematter? Have everything. Wife, children, money, success--but not in lawprofession. Too much ambition for public recognition; too scattered ininterests; how can I reconcile life in Chicago as lawyer with consuminginterest in foreign affairs--public affairs and desire for recognition andposition in that field? Prospect of Senate nomination sustains & at sametime troubles, even frightens me. Wish I could at least get tranquil & makeEllen happy and do go[od] humble job at law." The malaise continued: Isit political stature I need or professional?" Or was it family serenity? Andwas the latter possible?
In 1947 Ellen Borden and Adlai Stevenson had been married for nineteenyears. In 1941 Ellen Stevenson had threatened a divorce when herhusband left Chicago on one of his wartime missions abroad. Bitterly shecomplained of incompatibilities and absences that had begun in the 1930s.After the war Ellen's sister had demanded a conference with Stevenson totalk about his "situation with Ellen." But just as Adlai avoided his wife'sthreats (sometimes considering them no more than late evening whiskeytalk), so he told everyone who would intrude on his personal affairs that"all was well."
It wasn't. At some point in the 1930s, possibly while his wife was havingan affair, Stevenson had revived a friendship with Alicia Patterson Guggenheim,the publisher of Newsday, the Long Island daily. Patterson, the tinyred-haired daughter of a newspaper family, had exchanged Chicago's debutanteballrooms for the frenzied press rooms of Newsday, the paper sheand her husband Harry Guggenheim had founded in 1940 to service theburgeoning Levittowns of Suffolk and Nassau Counties. As politics ran inStevenson's blood, so journalism ran in hers--her great-grandfather JosephMedill had bought the Chicago Tribune before the Civil War; her aunt Cissiepublished the Washington Times-Herald; her cousin "Uncle" Bertie McCormickthe Chicago Tribune; and her father, Joseph Medill Patterson, the NewYork Daily News. By the 1930s Alicia, who had lasted only one year inboarding school, had been married three times, had learned her trade as areporter, and had fallen in love with Adlai Stevenson--a relationship herecalled in 1949 as ten years of all he'd "known of love and genuine personalconcern."
Stevenson admired the forty-four-year-old Alicia Patterson's direction:"I marvel at you more and more. You've made a great success--in the veryfield I had once dreamed of working." But this relationship was more thanthe mutual professional attraction of an ambitious newspaperwoman andan emerging politician. Stevenson was smitten. "I don't suppose love andenvy can meet. Maybe I'm confused with wanting any direction. Or perhapsit's wanting you rather than your objective. Anyway the love is hard enoughwithout the other, whatever it is."
If Adlai Stevenson was bored by the law, uncertain about his future, andavailable to other women, and if Ellen Stevenson was isolated from theChicago arts world she craved as her place of distinction and ambivalentabout her marriage, the couple still shared their three sons, along with thepleasures of their country estate in Libertyville, with sheep and horses onseventy-two acres of soybeans, pasture, and lawn. Nearby in the livingrooms of Lake Forest, they both starred in the social life of Chicago's premiersuburb.
In a few of these living rooms and on Stevenson's own tennis court, hisfriends had become excited about his candidacy, a campaign from whichhe had kept a discreet distance. Even before its enthusiasts had officiallyorganized as the Committee to Elect Adlai Stevenson U.S. Senator, they hadnever mistaken his self-described "casual indifference" for noncompliance,and had worked on. Lou Kohn, the lawyer whom Stevenson acknowledgedas his "most ardent backer for the Senate," told everyone who would listenhow during his service as a naval officer in the South Pacific he had concludedthat the United States must lead the postwar world in order to preventanother war. Returned to Chicago, Kohn remembered Stevenson fromthe Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and found one answer. Led byKohn, the eager band of Stevensonites sought out Arvey, who in 1945 hadnever heard of Adlai Stevenson. Arvey also noted the Republican backgroundsof his promoters and, among the group's few Democrats, the lackof any previous "party activity."
Some of Adlai's blue-blooded amateurs did not know any Democrats(and were proud of it) besides the partisan who had so gracefully assimilatedinto their circle as a congenial friend and whom they now zestfullytouted for public office. Adlai's Amateurs had other attributes, includingmoney, time, and links to other rich Americans. With admirers like these,Stevenson hardly needed an apprenticeship in some lesser office to attractindependents and Republicans.
As noon on December 29, 1947--the hour of Arvey's deadline and themoment of Stevenson's destiny--approached, Adlai Ewing Stevenson measuredhis fate: the certainty of the 1948 Democratic gubernatorial nominationagainst a remote future chance for a senatorial nomination; thefocusing of his scattered public ambitions against his marriage and theunfettered pleasures of private life in Libertyville; his obligation to friendswhose efforts on his behalf he had never discouraged, and had sometimesencouraged, against an established career as a partner in a well-known lawfirm and a reputation as a Chicago civic leader; the influence of party leadersover his future against his autonomy as a government in-and-outer; hisuncertainty about his ability to be a successful governor against past successes;and finally the Stevenson heritage of public service against the anonymityof a private citizen.
At five minutes before twelve, Adlai Stevenson gave his answer. Laterhe provided a more memorable explanation. Now he simply said as hepicked up the telephone, "Well, l guess you're right. It's now or never. I'lldo it." Although he called Arvey, the circumstances of Stevenson's selectionconfirmed his belief that he had been chosen to run. He had not insinuatedhimself into electoral politics. "Well, the fact of the matter is, l didn't seekthe job," he informed McLean County Democrats a few weeks later,attempting to establish his independence and difference from greedy politicianstwice in this speech and often in the early days of the campaign. "Ididn't ask to be put on the ticket." To Ellen's uncle he wrote that he had"finally surrendered to the blandishments of the politicians and agreed torun."
That night on the train to Lake Forest, there was jubilation among thecommuters. The news had traveled quickly along La Salle Street, fromArvey's law office at One La Salle to Democratic headquarters, on the thirdfloor of the Morrison Hotel, and upward through the glass-encased corporateand legal offices in the skyscrapers straddling Chicago's main commercialboulevard. At home when neighbors and friends gathered, EllenStevenson stayed apart from the celebration but came downstairs to readher poems to those assembled to congratulate her husband, not listen toher poetry. In a later conference with Arvey, she agreed not to divorce herhusband until the campaign was over. "I am in it after several dreadful daysof indecision and stalling," Stevenson acknowledged to his sister, BuffieIves. "Whether I've the strength, thick skin & capacity to at least make agood race I don't know, but at least I've got to try now for 10 fearful months.. . . I don't feel very gay this New Year's Day."
It was now Arvey's turn to worry. In the calendar of Illinois politics,candidates came to be slated before the state central committee, itself chosenby elected delegates from county conventions. At this meeting partylieutenants talked patronage and Democratic politics. Here Paddy Bauler,who ran a tavern in the Forty-third Ward and who believed everlastinglythat "Chicago ain't ready for reform," gossiped about the Democracy'sfuture with Paul Powell, corn farmer from downstate Johnson County whoheld gubernatorial aspirations and who, after a lifetime in Illinois politics,left a cash estate of $800,000 in shoeboxes and his bowling bag. In earlyJanuary, Stevenson appeared before what he called "the politicians." Arveyfeared his reluctant amateur would be too removed, too highbrow, and toomuch the novice.
But it was not the Lake County socialite or chagrined senatorial hopefulwho appeared that night. Instead, a smart campaigner conveying integrityand conviction laid out the nonpartisan terrain on which he intended tofight. From the beginning Stevenson separated himself from the endeavorsof party members, at the same time praising the professionals with characteristicsensitivity and paternalism. "I have a bad case of hereditary politics,and I hope by associating with veterans like you to contract an equally badcase of practical politics!" Despite his unearned prize, he acknowledgedthat he was not one of "the organized, militant shock troops of the Democraticparty in Illinois who have carried the standards of the people's partyfor so long in adversity as well as triumph." Then, with a touch of theheretical candor that forever marked his political style, Stevenson impliedthat he would campaign in the name of nonpartisan efficiency--for goodmen who might not be Democrats in state office, for a new constitutionthat might not protect the organization, and for the civil service cloture ofpatronage jobs that formerly bound the "shock troops" to the Democraticparty. Campaigning for the Illinois Senate seat, Paul Douglas complainedthat Stevenson's message was no more than "noblesse oblige on the part ofthe privileged. This did not appeal to the miners and hard-scrabble farmerswho were having trouble getting enough to wear."
Stevenson's campaign for the governorship began in the dark and coldand snow of an Illinois winter, with his chances as dismal as the weather.By spring when the planting began and the long horizons held a mist ofcolor, and he had received a good turnout in the uncontested primary,his chances for election had improved. The Republican incumbent, DwightGreen, felt it necessary to shorten his Florida vacation to respond to Stevenson.By summer when a withering hot dry spell set in and the bookies inMason County, in central Illinois, were giving seven-to-five odds on Greenthe two candidates were providing Illinois voters, as is the way of Americanpolitics, mirror images of themselves and their concerns. With tireless publicebullience, the bald-pated, rumpled, self-proclaimed amateur in BrooksBrothers button-down shirts talked and talked, worried about contributions,and sometimes helped install the red, white, and blue Stevenson bannersat the county fairs and courthouse squares where he spoke. "Fourcounties a day is a fine education," he informed Alicia Patterson in September,"but I don't recommend it for human beings."
Unknown to most Illinoisians, who had forgotten his family, Stevensonsquirmed when after his calls for better government the first question washow to pronounce his first name. In Lincoln, a small town in central Illinois,he spoke of ending corruption and especially gambling, before anaudience that couldn't hear him for the shouts from the racetrack in thebackground. Some days Stevenson suffered six catfish dinners, and on otherswent unfed. Once he confused local sentiments on alcohol and had tobe routed out of bed to visit Nauvoo's five taverns. At one county fair thebanner across Main Street read "Evening Program-Band Concert/Paradeof Prize Swine--Adlai Stevenson, Democratic Candidate for Governor." InPaddy Bauler's Forty-third Ward, in Chicago, when some of the faithfulcould not understand the candidate, Bauler yelled from the rear, "Attaboy,Professor, give us some more of those words!" Paul Douglas's campaignsymbol this political season was a basket of food to show the necessity forpostwar price controls; Adlai Stevenson's was a yellow legal pad, whichthereafter became the insignia of his public career and on which he scribbledhis good-government messages to the people.
Meanwhile Stevensons's opponent looked like the professional politicianhe was. With the abundant, well-groomed silver hair that Americanscraved in their officials and a round handsome face unfurrowed by any stateproblems even after seven years as governor, Green reminded audiences ofhis crusading past as a U.S. attorney responsible for the conviction of AlCapone. By 1949 Green needed to cloak himself in reform clothes to offsetcriticism that members of his administration had ties to Capone's successors.The governor said nothing of the angry veterans who had picketed thestate house for better housing and more benefits. Nor did he discuss thedisastrous explosion at Centralia, in southern Illinois, where just a yearearlier over a hundred miners had died. During the campaign Stevensonmade a charge he later regretted: "Green promised to protect the lives andsafety of the miners at Centralia and he let 111 of them die. He ignored theappeals of miners for protection while his mine inspectors collected campaignfunds from the operators."
Green had no Stevenson record to attack; instead, he tied his opponentto the national Democratic party of Truman administration scandals, bigspendingNew Deal programs, and softness on communism. He excoriatedthe United Nations and called his opponent a "striped pants diplomat," acharge that backfired when the Chicago News printed a picture of the governorin the striped pants of the male aristocracy's haute couture. Green'sissues were not especially Illinois concerns, since this governor had vicepresidentialambitions. He had been chosen to give the keynote address atthe Republican convention, which instead chose two other governors forits national ticket, Thomas Dewey of New York for president and Earl Warrenof California for vice president.
While the handsome incumbent who knew state and local affairs talkeddully of national budgets and foreign policy, "Stevie" (the nickname thedownstate politicians preferred to the unpronounceable, uncommon Adlai)concentrated on Illinois. The veteran of six years of federal and internationalservice now talked about the state affairs he had long avoided. Withan eloquence that soon gained national attention, Stevenson offered amodel for good government. He attacked the corruption of Green's administration;he promised more efficient state government, better and fewerofficials, higher pension and welfare payments, and a new constitution; heinveighed against the citizenry's sins of indolence, self-interest, and excessivepartisanship. Throughout he grounded his campaign in the sentimentsof his hero Woodrow Wilson, who, in his 1910 campaign for the New Jerseygovernorship, had also tried to raise state affairs to a compelling levelof moral regeneration. And like Wilson, who had also been chosen to bringrespectability to a state ticket, Stevenson declared his independence fromboth party and politicians.
On some social issues Stevenson ran slightly behind the Democraticplatform, though the differences were hard to detect from his adjective-filled,value-laden speeches. To a black audience he committed himself toa state Fair Employment Practices Act, "to make our righteous proclamationsof economic equality of opportunity something more than piouswords"; he promised a civil rights division in the Attorney General's Office.But he dismissed the need for any new civil rights laws, urging onlyenforcement of the old ones, and his FEPC lacked any powers to ensurecompliance. Along with most northern Democrats in 1948, Adlai Stevensonstood staunchly and rhetorically against racial discrimination in education,an end that did not yet require a statement on implementation. To thewomen of Illinois he offered equal pay for equal work, and a gentleman'spaternalism conveyed in his acknowledgment, as if he were speaking toforeigners, that his wife and mother were women.
Throughout the campaign, Stevenson one-liners stung: we will cleanhouse of "Greed, Grime and Green and the state house gang." He called thegovernor dirty names: "Bertie's Boy," "McCarthy" Green, and "GovernorGreed." He coined a new word, "plunderbund," to describe Green's malfeasance.He filled a black notebook with alliterative slams--"perfidious Pete,""Dwight the blight," "Pete--the man who never said no to a payroller andnever said yes to honest government." He was funny, self-deprecatory, and,especially in the beginning, long-winded and long-worded. His commentthat Illinois had game wardens who had never been closer to a quail than"Ananias to the truth" sent some listeners to their dictionaries and othersto an understanding that this candidate was not one of "the boys." Laterthe gibe reappeared in a more populist form as more "game wardens thanrabbits."
Stevenson listened, learned, and improved. In these days before politicalconsultants, his tiny campaign staff included mostly journalists, who, withthe cynicism of their trade, recognized his weaknesses: his voice was toohigh and too patrician. He sounded, one decided, like the movie actor RonaldColeman with the tinge of a midwestern accent. He paused in the wrongplaces and lost his punch lines. And he was, according to one reporter, "toopainfully eager."
When even his admiring sister, Buffie Ives, told him that he had put aPontiac audience to sleep, Stevenson shortened his words and paragraphsand eventually his speeches. "Keep your talks down to fifteen minutes,"advised his campaign manager, Jim Mulroy, "and always end optimistically."Yet the jokes and the silver-tongued self-derogation remained agraceful contrast to Green's sober self-congratulation. If he was Green'snameless member of the left-leaning, striped-pants brigade of diplomatswho had given Eastern Europe away to the Communists at Yalta, the governorwas for him "the third-term candidate of the Greed Gang."
As Stevenson labored over his talks in the backseat of the car thatbumped along the roads of Illinois (which he promised to improve), heworried about philosophical issues that few candidates ever considered. Toan audience in Peoria, he contemplated the nature of the electoral processand "the illusive business of finding [his] way to the heart of the averageman--when there is no such thing--and . . . the human heart is oftenencased in a pocketbook." Always an ardent self-critic, Stevenson decidedthat he could impress his listeners, but not excite them. Nor was he pleasedwith his radio performances, which at $525 for fifteen minutes outraged hisfrugality. In his promotional films the lights bounced from his unpowderedforehead like the headlights of a car off a water slick. In profile, his prominentnose overwhelmed his other features until his managers advised confrontingthe cameras full-face.
And all the while, as politicians do, Stevenson reassured his private selfpublicly. For personal reasons he had nearly deferred his candidacy. Butnow life in the public eye had become the central endeavor of a man laterdescribed by his son Borden as "enormously insecure." His messages spoketo his dilemmas. Supported by the most notorious machine in Americanhistory, Stevenson threw vitriol on his opponent's statehouse gang and itsconnections to the remnants of Capone's organization. Chosen by the bossof the Cook County Democratic Committee, who gave office for favors, hecriticized his opponent's version of the same process. Engaged in winningthe people's favor in a process that exhausted and irritated him, Stevensonreflected on civic virtue. His was the high road: "Those who treat politicsand morality apart will never understand the one or the other." Yet it washard for Stevenson to keep these two together while a political mendicanton a campaign marked by sharp, denigrative attacks on the vulnerableGreen.
In his distaste for the exchange aspects of the American electoral system,which traded political promises (and sometimes jobs, contracts, andeven money) for votes, Stevenson the Democrat emerged as Stevenson thenonpartisan, concerned, do-gooding progressive. Whatever he was, he wasnot a politician. "The good of the whole sometimes transcends normal partyallegiance," he declared, appealing to his fellow voters "not so much in thename of a Democratic candidate but as just another citizen." But as thatprivate citizen, he sometimes acted as if he was "off-duty" as a politician,forgetting to pick up restaurant checks or greet the people with the camaraderieof most seekers of office, who so easily established commonality withthe voters.
Nor was Adlai Stevenson comfortable with the attention given to personalmatters: "the way I tie my necktie, whether I prefer jelly or jam. . . .A few weeks ago some very political gentlemen took my manager asidedownstate and asked him a little sheepishly if he had objection to suggestingto me in some delicate, inoffensive manner that I wear a differenthat." Hoping to retain his privacy, Stevenson preferred discussion of theissues along with criticism of his opponent's record as he tested his virtuein a potentially corrupt endeavor. Such a public style was good politics ina Republican state, but it was also a private comfort.
As his marriage collapsed, Stevenson narrated the cautionary tale of hislife. This political campaign, he told listeners in Waukegan, was a discussionof "our intimate family problems in Illinois." He mixed public andprivate worlds: "I can readily understand why [the people of Illinois] wanta new Governor, but I am compelled to confess that my wife can't understandwhy they should want me!" "You can't have everything you want,"he warned voters growing accustomed to expansive promises from theirleaders.
Adlai Stevenson was advising himself because, as a married man whohad been taught that marriage was forever, he had fallen in love with AliciaPatterson. Laboring over his speeches, Stevenson introduced his dilemmawith dark images of illness and pessimism that hedged his political promisesand that conveyed his family problems: "Our nation is very sick in thevery large and very important part known as Illinois." "The world is troubledand frightened as never before." His distress was obvious in a speechto the Chicago Immigrants Protective League: "Must we forever foul ourown nest; must we forever corrupt the mind and the spirit to serve personalends?" At the end of the campaign he promised a victory or a broken heartin the attempt.
In the private life that extended into his public affairs, though he wishedto separate the two, Adlai Stevenson found purpose. One night from a third-ratehotel in Urbana, he "toppled" into bed after the "last of the politiciansand professors" had left and wrote Alicia Patterson of the rigors of campaigning:he would leave for Danville in the morning "and so on and on tothe end of time or until my sins are expiated--I wonder what the hell I'mdoing and why and then I think of you and that you think it's good andworthwhile and wouldn't love me if I didn't behave this way and then I getup and go at it again."
In mid-September the campaign came to Bloomington, the central Illinoistown that had been home to five generations of Stevensons. Stevensonhad opened his quest for the governorship there in February. Now, sevenmonths later, an old-fashioned torchlight parade with floats and speechesin the courthouse square was planned. In a modern resurrection of thepartisan ritual that had been the culmination of nineteenth-century campaigns,horse-drawn wagons had been replaced by the vintage Model T's,"Hummers," and Reos that Stevenson's parents and their generation haddriven along the shady, sometimes muddy streets of Bloomington in thefirst decade of the twentieth century. The chamber of commerce financed afloat; so did the railroad shop workers. The Bloomington Women's Clubfeatured a member dressed in the wedding dress of the candidate's mother,an ornate affair of ivory satin with the elaborate puff sleeves and pinchedwaist of Helen Davis Stevenson's time. Someone counted fifteen floats, sixtyhorses, twenty-five antique cars, thirty-seven motorcycles, and one hundredhomemade torchlights of kerosene in beer cans.
But no one wore the Democratic uniforms that had been such an essentialpart of the nineteenth-century understanding that partisans were anarmy en route to do battle against an enemy. Nor did the crowd of eighteenthousand line up as a military division with its officers directing the orderof march, its soldiers singing campaign songs, as they had to Adlai StevensonI. Instead, there was a languid rendition of "If you knew Stevie, like weknow Stevie /Oh! Oh! Oh! what a man / He so outclasses his opposition/Who is just another politician / Stevie's a statesman." When Stevensonspoke, the crowd listened passively without the noisy exchanges that characterizedthe partisan involvement of the witnessing crowd of an earlierpublic culture.
However forced, the connection of past and present, family and community,was apparent. Even Ellen Stevenson, who had made few appearancesafter she informed a luncheon meeting of the Democratic women of Illinoisthat she was and would remain a Republican, had agreed to come and todress in the bonnet and ankle-length dress of some imprecise earlier age.Before the parade made its way from Grandfather Adlai Stevenson's formerhouse in Franklin Park to the courthouse square in the center of town(Ellen's Model T broke down in an explosion of steam, and she had towalk), a crowd of neighbors overflowed onto the sidewalk of 1316 EastWashington Street. This was the house and lawn of Buffie Stevenson Ives,the candidate's sister--and the place where Adlai Stevenson had lived from1907 until 1916, when he went to boarding school in the East.
Returned from Europe in 1939 after her husband's retirement from theconsular service, Elizabeth Ives (whose nickname, along with so much inher life, had been bestowed by her younger brother) had bought the housefrom her parents' estate. Thereafter she kept what family members called"1316" as it had been during the Bloomington childhood she had sharedwith her brother. Her mother's soothing lavender still decorated one of thefour upstairs bedrooms, and in the front living room and side porch, shadednow by the oaks, pines, and a gingko planted by Helen Stevenson beforeWorld War I, the furniture and the royal red damask upholstery were identicalto those her mother preferred. For Buffie 1316 represented a tangiblelink to a past that she also preserved in the letters of previous generationsnow carefully typed and elegantly bound. In the attic and the back roomon the second floor, manila folders and file cases overflowed with earlierchapters of a family story of which she was this generation's archivist. Onthis day dressed in a Quaker bonnet and the dress of her maternal grandmother,and holding the sign "Pioneer 1830," Buffie intended to play asupporting role in the future chapters of the Stevenson story.
Amid the tradition some innovations were apparent--a popular radiohost circulated through the crowd on the lawn interviewing those who hadknown the candidate in his youth. To save time the candidate had temporarilyabandoned his slow-moving automobile caravan for the train. Hearrived from Chicago with an entourage that included influential leaders ofthe Democratic party. At first they had written off as a loser this candidatewho disarmingly characterized his efforts as "an amateur's pilgrimagethrough the political jungle of Illinois." But now the politicians suspectedan upset and wanted to see for themselves.
Most of the local well-wishers were Republicans; McLean County rarelydeviated from its almost century-long attachment to the Republican party.Its prosperous farmers had refused even the New Deal appeals of Roosevelt,though Bloomington had gone Democratic in 1932 and 1936. Still, the Stevensonswere well known in this community. A few members of the crowdcould remember the parades and rallies held sometimes to honor and sometimesto promote the various candidacies of Stevenson 1. Some could dimlyrecall his losing campaigns for the vice presidency in 1900 and for theIllinois governorship in 1908. More remembered when the current candidate'sfather, Lewis Stevenson, campaigned for secretary of state in 1916.Still others connected the candidate to the region's most influential newspaper,the Bloomington Pantagraph, a maternal legacy from the Republicanside of the family that had, just this time, put blood before party habit byendorsing Stevenson for governor and, to the irritation of Paul Douglas, noone else on the Democratic ticket.
To this audience, as he stood on the wooden platform that commandedthe courthouse square, Adlai Stevenson described the virtues of heartlandAmerica with its ideals of "friendliness, belief in the Republic, trust in thedemocratic principle--faith in the future--respect for the past--progressalong the path that our ancestors blazed." It was the kind of political sermonat which Bloomington's favorite son excelled. Stevenson would neverbe more eloquent than he was that afternoon as he gave the sentimentallesson of his childhood to his former neighbors: "that in quiet places, reasonabounds; that in quiet people there is vision and purpose; that manythings are revealed to the humble that are hidden from the great." Throughwords and delivery, he conveyed what modern politicians in an age withoutthe compass of parties must: a superior character who deserved office.Without artifice, private sentiment merged with public intentions, howevervague, in the self-revelation that postwar politics increasingly required. Stevensonconcluded humbly by expressing the hope that he could measureup to the Bloomington-instilled virtues of "self-respect, humanity andfriendliness." Nowhere did he mention the Democratic party. Nor did hemention that this particular son of the prairie had left for Chicago as soonas he could.
The Bloomington rally was the turning point of Adlai Stevenson's 1948gubernatorial campaign. The Chicago Democrats who had traveled toBloomington now untied their purse strings to support a candidate mosthad earlier dismissed. Along with four-figure gifts from several Chicagowards, the Democratic Central Committee contributed $10,000, which disturbedAdlai's Amateurs, though Stevenson's campaign fund of $175,000was much less than that of Green. "You are asking the independent votersof Illinois to vote for you because there is a corrupt machine," complainedJane Dick, a Lake Forest confidante who questioned the candidate's independenceafter accepting such "dubious" support.
This was neither the first nor the last advice Jane Dick would deliverto Adlai Stevenson. As wealthy, blond Jane Warner, she had danced withStevenson in the debutante ballrooms of Chicago in the late 1920s; afterher marriage to Edison Dick, heir to the A. B. Dick Company, makers ofbusiness machines, she had dined with him in the chic North Shore CasinoClub in the 1930s. Unlike most society women, Dick had worked at thecity's legendary Hull House, where Stevenson was on the board. Preferringpolitics and Adlai Stevenson to bridge and garden clubs, she had become acharter member of Adlai's Amateurs, with an official role during the campaignas cochair of the women's division.
The hardworking Stevenson took the money and gained in the polls,even though Truman's support against the Republican candidate, ThomasDewey, remained fixed at a mere 30 percent. By November the gamblerswhom Stevenson had vowed to put out of business were offering even oddson Green and Stevenson. But the national press, including the New YorkTimes, predicted the Republicans would retain the governorship, just as itbelieved, along with most observers, that Dewey would beat Truman. Yet allwere impressed with the man Newsweek described as "the friendly, earnestcandidate [who] visited almost every lunch wagon and curbstone from littleEgypt in Southern Illinois to the North Shore along Lake Michigan, makingas many as a dozen speeches in a single night."
On November 2, 1948, Adlai Stevenson was elected governor of Illinoisby what was at that time the largest margin in the state's history. On electionnight, when the press finally caught up with the victor and askedwhether he thought the returns were going well, Stevenson responded thathe had been out to dinner and out of touch. "Is it going well?" he inquiredof an astonished reporter, revealing again that nonchalance so foreign tomost politicians. With 58 percent of the total vote, he led the Democraticticket, as Illinois Republicans abandoned their party and voted for the man,not the organization. Stevenson carried Bloomington by 2,000 votes, andin a familiar pattern of postwar voting, the citizens split their ballots tofavor Dewey over Truman by nearly the same margin. The winner was especiallyproud of his downstate showing, although the disciplined soldiers ofArvey's machine had provided 60 percent of his statewide vote. In Arvey'sTwenty-fourth Ward, which had earned a reputation as the Gibraltar of theDemocracy, 99 percent of the 28,000 voters cast their ballots for the manArvey touted as our "golden nugget in the backyard." Stevenson was notsurprised that he had failed to carry his home county of Lake; as Arveyhad predicted, suburban voters were Republicans. Stevenson hardly noticedwhat later came to concern him: a declining turnout, which, despite populationincreases, was less than in 1940 and 1944.
In a corollary to the presidential coattail, Stevenson served as a politicalfront-loader, bulldozing Truman before him. The president's statewide marginwas a skimpy 33,000 votes; Stevenson's was an abundant 570,000 on aballot that did not include this presidential year's minor parties: Henry Wallace'sProgressives, Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrats, and Norman Thomas'sSocialists. Stevenson's majority was enough to earn a congratulatory notefrom Harry Truman, who recognized in the new Illinois governor the votegettingability that, especially after his startling defeat of Dewey, the presidentrespected. Stevenson answered with the earnestness that sometimesoverrode his worldliness: "Command me if I can ever be of any service."
Green's record helped Stevenson to the extent that elections are referendumson past policies and administrations; so too did the two-term governor'sambitions for the third term, for which Republicans despised FranklinRoosevelt. Stevenson did especially well in the downstate counties whosesupport acknowledged his small-town, Protestant background, though by1948 he had lived twice as long in Chicago as he had in Bloomington.Republicans did not feel as if they were voting for a Democrat, so effectivewas Stevenson's pledge as "just another citizen" that party politics and goodgovernment were divisible. He benefited as well from the suspicions ofdownstate farmers who heard Dewey's tepid endorsements of farm supports.Stevenson also won because of his tireless campaign and his reformmessage. "He might have been reluctant to go for it at first," one reportercommented, "but once committed, he fought as if his survival depended onthe outcome."
In one year the self-proclaimed good citizen preoccupied with internationalaffairs and ambivalent about his future had lost his status as an occasionalvisitor to public service. As governor of the fourth-largest state in theunion, he would over the next four years exchange questions about theUnited Nations and deteriorating Soviet-American relations for considerationsof roads, mental health, pensions, and coal mines. As an elected official,he would also surrender his privacy for public scrutiny, and he wouldlose his wife.
The hundreds of postelection messages included one from Alicia Patterson,who was in Germany. Sending her love and congratulations, shewanted introductions to European leaders whom Stevenson knew from hiswork at the United Nations. The new governor responded with exuberanceand a characteristically plaintive note: "I carried 111. by 565,000 plus--neveranything like it in history--515,000 ahead of Truman and 180,000 aheadof the closest man on the Democratic ticket. Now I'm really in trouble."
Rashly the governor-elect considered visiting Alicia Patterson in Paris,where she was covering international events in a tumultuous year markedby the American airlift to Berlin and a national debate over postwar aid toEurope. Discretion held the day. Instead, after a short holiday with his sisterand brother-in-law in North Carolina, covered, to his chagrin, by the press,Stevenson acknowledged both the joy in his fulfilled "dream of this Gov.business" and the tedium of the "exacting preparations . . . staff, research,conferences, appointments to major jobs, patronage."
He showed no ambivalence about what he felt for Alicia. After threehusbands she had declared that she had never loved anyone but him. "Is itreally true my angel--or was it just a girlish explosion that you might havebetter spared a sensitive passionate governor. We must talk of that and tenthousand other things that seem more important than cabinet appointmentsin Illinois. . . . Somewhere the sun is shining--and you're in it--apool of bright light, your hair is glistening and reddish and tumbling allabout your shoulders, your delicate little face serene and your eyes halfshut in reverie. And in a moment I'm going to kiss you and you're going tobe all alive again." In this letter the newly elected governor offered a hopefulmotto for the challenges of his private and public life: "There's nothing wecan't do if we want to enough and we are wise enough."